After being cooped up inside for the last ten weeks to avoid COVID-19, we were at the point of needing some outdoor time. I wanted somewhere local where I could reconnect with my daughter and granddaughters yet avoid the potential Memorial-Day-Weekend crowds. The 4-H Children’s Garden at Michigan State University fit the bill. Even without children, the garden is a relaxing place to explore.
Our school district implemented virtual learning in mid-March, so we also took this opportunity to pull the kiddos away from electronics and get them outdoors for some fresh air and fun, yet still sneak in some learning opportunities. The 4-H Children’s Garden encourages learning through their fifty-five themed gardens.
The Pizza Garden
One of our favorite gardens was the Pizza Garden, where we found everything it takes to make pizza. The six feet in diameter garden, with a mysteriously missing slice, has concrete “crust” edges embossed with circles representing pepperoni. This lead to a discussion that pepperoni doesn’t grow in gardens. We talked about where pizza comes from. Surprisingly, it doesn’t originate at the local pizza shop.
The Pizza Garden grows wheat that, in turn, is milled into flour, forming the basis for the pizza’s crust. Tomatoes create pizza sauce and the oregano and basil to flavor the sauce. You’ll find veggie toppings like onions and green peppers as summer progresses.
The Five Senses
Throughout the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden, my daughter and I encouraged the kiddos to experience the area with all five senses. In the Pizza Garden, we rubbed our hands through the leaves of the basil, oregano, and chives, and they smelled just like pizza. The blossoming chives added a welcome pop of purple color to the bed. Early in the season, some plots are still missing color.
The Pizza Garden was the perfect place to discuss the sense of taste as we recalled their favorite pizza. At the end of the evening, we decided to stop by our favorite pizza place and pick-up a real veggie pizza to extend our adventure. We made sure to make the connections between our dinner and the memorable garden experience.
The flowers’ bright colors entertained our sense of sight while jumping on the Dance Chimes engaged our hearing. We touched the rough sticks of the Twigaloo Village and the cold bronze of the Life’s Lessons sculpture to round out our experience with the fifth sense.
Art lovers will enjoy the sculptures and other art installations throughout the less than two-thirds of an acre Children’s Garden. Two of my favorites are the Lesson’s Learned sculpture to the left after entering the garden. A bronze sculpture of a boy seated on a bench reading a book includes a whimsical bird perched on an open page. Be sure to notice the stack of books tucked slightly behind the child. I almost missed them the first time I looked.
Another favorite is the Young-Girl sculpture at the Secret Garden. A wrought iron bench in the space was the perfect place to sit in luxurious solitude, enjoy the statue, and reflect. By chance, you may see some wildlife in the form of bunnies, chipmunks, and squirrels. I’ve seen rabbits before, and today a chipmunk scurried throughout the area.
My daughter read Peter Rabbit as a bedtime story the night before we visited the garden. The Peter Rabbit Garden features statues of Peter and his mother, and even this early in the season, we saw some pops of red in the fresh Swiss chard. Later in the season, this garden also features Bunny Tail plants, which is a fun connection to Peter Rabbit.
Stone Soup is another storybook garden that tied to our visit.
From the Secret Garden, a large gate swings open to a maze formed by tall evergreen trees. The feeling that adventure awaits just around the corner as we wandered through the maze added to the fun. Rest assured, the maze wasn’t long or complicated and is precisely right for young children accompanied by their parents. My 14-month old granddaughter toddled through the dirt paths without issue.
The 4-H Children’s Garden includes several interactive activities. For those kids who need to blow off some steam, climbing the treehouse-style fort is sure to tire them out. A kid-sized train engine is another climbing area with a couple of seats in the train station for parents and grandparents who don’t have quite as much energy as their kiddos. It’s the perfect place for the kids to work off some of that energy, while adults can sit nearby and supervise.
The Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden’s outdoor space is open dawn until dusk, with no admission charge. A small paid parking lot adjoins the garden.
Click here to discover other Michigan children’s gardens.
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